Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis Mondays and Fridays, 3-6pm CT

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Best Thing I've Read Today

In the NY Times, James Poniewozik writes about the president's TV addiction:

The problem is not how much TV Mr. Trump watches. It’s the kind of TV he watches.

As Mr. Trump’s associates report and his Twitter feed confirms, his video diet of choice is cable news, the most agitating, psychically toxic programming you can immerse yourself in, even if you don’t have possession of the nuclear codes.

This is not to say cable news is bad journalism. There are talented people in the business doing great reporting. But it is to say that cable news — as a genre, a gestalt, an environment to spend hours a day in — is by nature agitating and provoking.

That’s the cable-news business model. Conflict means urgency, and urgency means viewers glued to the channel. So it seeks out arguments and pushes buttons. It is a machine designed to generate stress and negative emotion.
He's absolutely right about the programming that makes up hour after hour every day on all the cable news outlets. No matter what your political persuasion, it is toxic. I've seen its effect on my mother, who used to live in an apartment by herself with the TV spewing that stuff all day long, and witnessed how it turned her sour, angry, and anxious. Now that she's in assisted living facility, she has more activities to take up several hours of each day, but when she's in her room, those are still the only channels she watches -- and they don't help make her day better.

Similarly, I have seen the same effect on friends who obsess over every story those outlets over-cover and the arguments they produce. For some of those friends, the only time they turn away from the TV screen is when they turn towards their phone or laptop screen to vent about what they've seen on Facebook, where they then consume even more noxious content. A couple of them even take their cable news obsession with them in the car, listening via SiriusXM or the TuneIn app, or listening to just-as-pernicious talk radio hosts. Do you think that might have something to do with instances of road rage in this country?

Poniewozik's advice isn't merely valid for the president, but for everyone. Turn that trash off. It's the same thing I urged in my "This Isn't Fake News" speech earlier this year:
I give you this advice because it’s exactly what I have done. When I used to have a daily radio show, I had to jump into the information ocean repeatedly throughout the day to catch whatever would make an interesting talking point for that day’s show. Now that I’m only on once a week, doing a show that’s dedicated to everything but the hard news of the day, I have pulled back dramatically on my news fetish. I am anything but an information luddite, but I’m happy to find other things to do with my time than bathing my brain in the fetid backwash that exists in our information overload.

I strongly suggest you cleanse yourself of it, too.
Poniewozik goes on to recommend that, if the president is going to watch so much TV, he should change the channel to find an old movie, or a sitcom, or the Golf Channel.

David Goldfield, "The Gifted Generation"

David Goldfield, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has written 16 books on southern and American history. His newest is "The Gifted Generation: When Government Was Good," which focuses on the social benefits provided to the early baby boomers under presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson.

Among the questions I asked him:
  • Were they (Truman/Ike/LBJ) more sympathetic to working class Americans because they didn’t have much when they grew up?
  • Truman proposed universal health care 70 years ago, but couldn’t pass it — why?
  • What was public opinion on these matters, and were those men leading or pandering?
  • When did the belief that the federal government must work for all Americans begin to erode?
  • Are there other countries where the government continues to support its people that way?
  • Was there ever such a thing as progressive republicans?
  • Considering its current state, can American government ever be good again?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Matthew Salganik, "Bit By Bit"

Here's my conversation with Matthew Salganik, sociology professor at Princeton University and author of “Bit By Bit: Social Research In The Digital Age.”

We started by talking about how the digital revolution has changed how our behavior is observed, how that gives companies and researchers more accurate portraits of us, and whether we should be wary of all the data being collected without our consent. We also discussed how selling information has become big business, what kind of ethical rules should be in place for that data, and how it can be misused. Matt also revealed a project he did last spring with his students that taught them how to manipulate their Facebook news feeds (and they're not even Russian!).

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Political Prediction

If Roy Moore is elected today, I predict there will quickly be calls for a boycott of Alabama akin to the one in North Carolina after that state's bathroom law was passed. Of course, Alabama can't lose a Super Bowl or MLB/NBA/NHL All-Star game, but businesses and tourists might stay away.

If he does pull off a victory, you can forget about the Republicans in the Senate throwing him out, as many of them publicly professed they would a few short weeks ago. No, they'll keep him in there because our over-caffeinated president wants him there -- and because that entire party is morally bankrupt.

While I'm on the topic, in case you missed it, how about this lead paragraph from a CNN story about Moore on Sunday:

Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore appeared on a conspiracy-driven radio show twice in 2011, where he told the hosts in an interview that getting rid of constitutional amendments after the Tenth Amendment would "eliminate many problems" in the way the US government is structured.
Let's see, what came up in the amendments after the first ten that make up our Bill Of Rights? Since Moore was a sitting judge for many years, he probably knows that:
  • the 13th Amendment abolished slavery;
  • the 14th Amendment defined citizenship and guaranteed due process and equal protection;
  • the 15th Amendment prohibited denying the right to vote based on race;
  • the 19th Amendment prohibited denying the right to vote based on sex.
Do you get the feeling old white man Roy Moore thinks he's living not in 2017, but in 1817?

Or, considering his extremist religious views, perhaps he just thinks it's the year 17.

No, wait, that's the age of the girls he lusted after in his thirties. Damn!

Chris Matthews, “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit”

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, who was then three years into his first term as a US Senator, and just 80 days into his candidacy for president of the United States. Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s Hardball, has written about RFK’s brother in the books “Jack Kennedy—Elusive Hero” and “Kennedy and Nixon,” and now has published “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit.” In our conversation about the book, the topics we covered included:
  • What made him want to return to tell more stories about the Kennedy family;
  • How Bobby was different from Jack and Ted;
  • What was his role in his brother’s administration;
  • If he’d lived, would RFK have been the Democratic presidential nominee in ’68;
  • Would he then have gone on the beat Nixon, and how that would have changed US history;
  • Whether Chris, a grad student at UNC in 1968, was an RFK-For-President supporter;
  • How Bobby Kennedy tangled with the Mafia and Jimmy Hoffa, and whether that affected his support from unions;
  • A touching story about the crowds that gathered to see his funeral train.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Kael Maness, Ex-Addict Helping Addicts

A couple of weeks ago, I read a piece by Michele Munz in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Kael Maness, one of several recovery coaches working with addicts who overdose on opioids and end up in hospital emergency rooms.

I contacted Kael and asked him to come in to talk about his work, which is so effective because he speaks the same language as the addicts he helps because he's been in their shoes, addicted to pretty much anything you could name over the course of more than a dozen years. He's been sober for three years, and now works with Project EPICC (Engaging Patients In Care Coordination) through the Behavioral Health Network of Greater St. Louis.

Kael was very open about the road he'd been down with alcoholism and drug addiction, and offered some tough love suggestions for parents who have children -- of any age -- who have followed the same path ("if you baby your kid, you'll bury your kid"). With opioids killing more Americans last year than died in the Vietnam War, the efforts of Kael and other recovery coaches are part of the solution.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Dan Steadman and Tom Oldcroft, "The Shoe"

Dan Steadman is a writer/director who makes movies in the St. Louis area. Tom Oldcroft has appeared in a couple of them, including Dan's latest, "The Shoe," an anthology story that takes place over seven decades. When they joined me in the studio, we talked about that project as well as Dan's previous work, why he likes creating content in St. Louis, and his earlier life making movies and TV pilots in Hollywood (with stories about Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer, and Jim Carrey).

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, December 11, 2017

On My Monday Radio Show

I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show. Among my guests will be: I hope you'll listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at

Movie Review: "Darkest Hour"

"Darkest Hour" is the third movie this year whose plot centers on the British Army being trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk by the Nazis in 1940. The first was "Their Finest," a light drama starring Gemma Atherton and Bill Nighy (my review is here). The second was "Dunkirk," Christopher Nolan's epic told from three perspectives in three different timelines (my review is here).

Now we get "Darkest Hour," with Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in his earliest days as British Prime Minister. We've seen Churchill portrayed on screen before (both John Lithgow and Brendan Gleeson have won Emmys playing him in the last decade), but this is the best of the lot. The makeup job on Oldman is astounding, and his performance (sure to be nominated for Best Actor) is even better.

After the disastrous reign of PM Neville Chamberlain, Churchill was chosen to lead his country at a perilous time. The Germans had rolled through most of Europe with little resistance, and had trapped virtually the entire UK army at Dunkirk. Once they were wiped out, it wouldn't be long before the Nazis crossed the English Channel to attack Britain. While some in his government urged Churchill to try some sort of back-door negotiation with Hitler through Italy's Mussolini, he abhorred the idea, understanding that surrender could not be an option.

"Darkest Hour" portrays Churchill's meetings with Parliament, his war council, and King George VI during those difficult days. Unlike the action-heavy "Dunkirk," this movie is very talky, but never slow. We see Churchill portrayed not as a perfect man -- he drank too much and was never in good health -- but as a statesman trying to figure out how to lead his country and inspire its citizenry.

Joe Wright directs "Darkest Hour" with a keen eye for the subterranean corridors of power that Churchill must navigate, while also giving us scenes of his home life with wife, Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), and his meetings at Buckingham Palace with the king (played by my "Mississippi Grind" co-star, Ben Mendelsohn), whose advisers were telling him to leave the island and rule in absentia for his own safety.

The biggest flaw in "Darkest Hour" is a scene towards the end in which Churchill rides the subway with common Brits in order to get their opinion on what he should do about the Nazis. The problem is that never happened. Wright and screenwriter Anthony McCarten invented the whole thing, which is a shame, because they got the rest of the Churchill story right.

Nonetheless, you should see "Darkest Hour," primarily because of Oldman's work in the role, but also because it's yet another part of world history most Americans know far too little about.

I give "The Darkest Hour" an 8 out of 10.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Brian Regan Tickets

I have two tickets to Brian Regan at the Peabody Opera House on 1/12/18 that I can't use because something's come up. The seats are in Row W, Orchestra Left Center, and come with Premier Parking in the Abrams Garage next door. If you'll cover my cost ($189), I'll be happy to transfer them to you. If you're interested, email me: paul (at)

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Tim Riley, National Churchill Museum

With the movie "Darkest Hour," opening today in St. Louis (with a remarkable performance by Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill), I called upon Tim Riley, chief curator of the National Churchill Museum, to discuss the man's legacy. He explained why the museum is in Fulton, Missouri, and the back story of the historic church that was moved there, brick by brick, from London, England.

Tim explained Churchill's leadership in fighting Germany during World War II, how he inspired his countrymen, and how he differed from his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain. We talked about Churchill's relationships with US president Franklin Roosevelt, and why the latter didn't come to Britain's aide as the Dunkirk story was unfolding in May, 1940. We also discussed a low point in Churchill's career, when he opposed the Indian independence movement and wanted to crush its leader, Mahatma Ghandi. We even had time to get into World War I, Gallipoli, the Korean War, and Joseph Stalin.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 12/8/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed "Darkest Hour" and "The Disaster Artist." Then we talked about how the money a movie brings in is distributed and how much goes to the theaters that show it. We also discussed why the "Olaf's Frozen Adventure" short doesn't play before each showing of Pixar's "Coco" any more, what's wrong with the new trailers for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" and "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," what will happen when "House Of Cards" returns to Netflix without Kevin Spacey, and why you should stream the series "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" on Amazon Prime.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 12/8/17

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun that you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include Resign Of The Times, The War Machine, and How You Will Die. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/8/17

This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include people parked in the wrong spot, a self-incriminating bank robber, and a toilet seat in the wrong position. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, December 08, 2017

On My Friday Radio Show

I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show (listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at

In the first hour, with the movie "Darkest Hour" opening today, I'll talk with Tim Riley, chief curator of the National Winston Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri.

In the second hour, Max and I will review "Darkest Hour" and "The Disaster Artist," plus other movie/showbiz news.

In the third hour, you'll get a chance to test your topical trivia knowledge with my Harris Challenge, and I'll have another batch of Knuckleheads In The News®, too.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The End Of The Al Franken Decade

I'm disappointed in Al Franken, but not because he resigned from the Senate.

If the Democrats are going to claim the moral upper hand on the sexual harassment issue so they can wield it against Trump and the GOP in the mid-term elections, he had no choice. Besides, Minnesota's governor is a Democrat, who will likely name Tina Smith (the current lieutenant governor) to replace Franken until the next election, and then she'll have the power of the incumbency when she runs for re-election to that seat. So, it's not like the Dems had a one-vote majority they're sacrificing by urging Franken to step down.

My disappointment in Franken stems from my admiration for him both before and during his short political career. He always struck me as one of the smart ones, a rarity on Capitol Hill, a public official who seemed to care about using government to make people's lives better by carrying on the legacy of his hero, Paul Wellstone. That doesn't excuse Franken forcing his tongue down women's throats or grabbing their butts repeatedly -- for which he didn't apologize in his resignation speech -- but in a world where too many elected officials seem to have no idea what they're talking about, Franken stood out as different.

I have no idea what he'll do now, or if he can figure out a career path that gives him a third act, but once he does leave the Senate in a few weeks, it's going to be quite awhile before he re-emerges, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, is the US a better country without Al Franken in the Senate? You'll have to ask the women he assaulted.

Random Thoughts

I saw a commercial for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" tonight, and noticed that at the end, the MPAA adds this: "Rated PG-13 for sequences of science fiction action and violence." That's important, because there might be 11 or 12 people in the world who don't know what to expect from yet another "Star Wars" movie.

Vladimir Putin is running for a fourth term as president of Russia. I sure hope he can keep the US from interfering in the election.

After Trump announced he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (though I doubt he could find it on a map, let alone recognize it), several pundits said "this throws a crimp into the Middle East peace process." You mean the Middle East peace process that's been so successful over the last, um, 70 years? Seems to me it's been nothing but non-stop crimps.

There's a debate raging in the NFL over the league taking harsh action against some Steelers and Bengals players after their blatant and repeated shots to the opponents' heads the other night. Have these guys not followed the news of veteran players, long after their careers ended, having severe problems with brain injuries like chronic traumatic encephalopathy? How many ex-NFLers will have to die (some at their own hands) in their forties and fifties before this generation of players wises up and stops the cranial contact? While the NFL denied these injuries for years, it's good to see the league taking pro-active measures to try to cut down on it -- but the players have to do their part. For instance, even on the sidelines, players must stop congratulating each other by bashing each other on the helmet, or sometime smacking their helmets together. It's your skull, dammit, the place where you keep your brain, which should be telling you to stop doing that!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

What The Hell Is Wrong With People?

That's the question I kept asking after reading these three stories:

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

And The Winner Will Be

Time magazine has announced its finalists for 2017 Person Of The Year: Jeff Bezos, Patty Jenkins, Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Mueller, Mohammed bin Salman, and The Dreamers.

None of those nine will win. That accolade will go to The #MeToo Movement, which the magazine describes thusly:
The movement — which aims to shed light on the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault — took off after bombshell allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein and dozens of other male leaders in Hollywood, media, business and politics, fueling a moment of reckoning about the treatment of women in the workplace.
It's not even close. No other story has caused as many ripples in television, movies, politics, comedy, and lots of other industries over the last twelve months. Jobs have been lost, elected (and unelected) officials have been forced to face tough questions about their past, business people have been tossed out of their C-suites, and -- most importantly -- women have finally become empowered by their strength in numbers to reveal stories of sexual harassment (and worse) they suffered at the hands (and other body parts) of power-abusing men.

The winner will be announced Wednesday morning on NBC's "Today" show, which is perfect considering the number of women on its staff who used the #MeToo hashtag about former host Matt Lauer.

Rachel Jeffs, "Breaking Free"

You may remember hearing about FLDS, a cult of fundamentalist Mormons in Arizona and Utah led by Warren Jeffs, the group’s self-proclaimed prophet, who has 78 wives and 53 children and still controls them from his cell in a federal prison, where he’s serving a sentence of life plus 20 years. Almost all of his followers keep quiet about what he’s done, but not Rachel Jeffs, one of his daughters, who left the church in 2015, moved to Idaho, and has written about her life in “Breaking Free: How I Escaped Polygamy, the FLDS Cult, and My Father, Warren Jeffs.”

This was a tough interview, not only because Rachel tends to give short answers, but also because the subject matter makes the hair on my neck stand up -- and worse. Still, I was curious about her reactions when I asked about the rules her father insisted on, what the punishment was for breaking them, and what her childhood was like. Then we dug into how he sexually abused her beginning when she was eight years old (!), what happened when she confronted him in a letter at age 16, and how she was forced into a polygamous marriage at 18. We discussed how he continues to control the family from behind bars, whether she's in touch with any other family members, and why she doesn't consider herself a victim or want sympathy. She also revealed how she's heard from women and men who have gone through similar experiences.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Cara Drinan, "The War On Kids"

Here's my conversation with Cara Drinan, law professor at Catholic University, about her book, "The War On Kids: How American Juvenile Justice Lost Its Way." Among the topics we discussed:
  • What’s wrong with the way our justice system handles cases involving juveniles?
  • At what age should a teenager be treated as an adult?
  • Were things different in previous generations?
  • How much of this is part of the War On Drugs? How much is racial?
  • What does she mean when she says in the book there is a subclass of kids in US who we have deemed expendable;
  • Are judges hands’ tied by mandatory minimums, or do they have discretion? Do they use it wisely?
  • What happens to these kids in adult prison, particularly when they’re in for decades?
  • How unlikely is it laws will change for the better when no candidate wants to be seen as soft on crime?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Rachel Botsman, "Who Can You Trust?"

If you rent a home with AirBnB or get into the back or an Uber or a Lyft or buy something on eBay, there’s a huge element of trust involved. Ironically, we’re doing those things at the same time that trust in traditional institutions like government and business and banks and media is at an all-time low. That brings me to today’s guest, Rachel Botsman, author of "Who Can You Trust? How Technology Brought Us Together and How It Might Drive Us Apart."

We discussed why most people don't care about data breaches at big companies like Equifax, Sony, and Target, nor about sharing very personal information on Facebook. We talked about why there seems to be more faith in Bitcoin than in stock index funds and whether we'll ever trust self-driving cars. Finally, I asked her about the global implications of President Trump saying reporters are the "enemy of the people" and that the FBI can't be trusted -- both of which are false yet dangerous.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, December 04, 2017

On My Monday Radio Show

I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show. Among my guests will be:
I hope you'll listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at

Picture Of The Day

I’m usually not a sucker for stuff like this, but it got me...

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Beverly Gray, "Seduced By Mrs. Robinson"

This year marks fifty years since the release of "The Graduate," starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katherine Ross. On its golden anniversary, here's my conversation with Beverly Gray, author of "Seduced By Mrs. Robinson: How The Graduate Became The Touchstone Of A Generation."

I started our discussion at the end of the movie, when Hoffman and Ross' characters are riding away in the bus as their laughter fades into a realization of what they've just done. Gray explained how director Mike Nichols got that perfect final shot by accident. We also talked about how each of the leads got their roles, how Nichols chose Simon and Garfunkel music for the soundtrack, and what "The Graduate" meant personally to Gray, who was a UCLA senior when it was released.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 12/1/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed four recent movie releases: "Lady Bird," "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri," "Coco," and "Last Flag Flying." We also talked about a filmmaker shedding his connection to Harvey Weinstein and why Denzel Washington's new movie isn't doing well. Then I went off on a rant about the Netflix documentary "Jim and Andy."

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Note 1: while discussing "Last Flag Flying," Max mentioned that Bob Rafelson directed "The Last Detail," which was based on a previous book by the same author. That's incorrect. Rafelson directed Jack Nicholson in "Five Easy Pieces," but Hal Ashby directed him in "The Last Detail."

Note 2: while discussing "Jim and Andy" (that's Carrey and Kaufman), I explained why the latter wasn't the genius so many people believed, but rather a nutcase who was over-indulged by everyone around him. I first wrote about this 17 years ago in this column, which is worth going back to read.

Harris Challenge 12/1/17

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun that you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include Thriller Plus 35 Years, Names In The News, and Those Are The Neighbors, Jim. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/1/17

This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a man painting his own street directions, some dumb Tesla thieves, and a stickup guy who's moisturized and dangerous. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, December 01, 2017

On My Friday Radio Show

I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show (listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at

In the first hour, I'll talk with Beverly Gray about "Seduced By Mrs. Robinson," her book celebrating the 50th anniversary of "The Graduate."

In the second hour, Max and I will review "Coco," "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri," and "Lady Bird," plus other movie/showbiz news.

In the third hour, you'll get a chance to test your topical trivia knowledge with my Harris Challenge, and I'll have another batch of Knuckleheads In The News®, too.

Rain Pryor Talks About Richard Pryor

Comedy legend Richard Pryor would be 77 years old today. Here's a conversation I had several years ago with his daughter, Rain Pryor, when she published her book about him, "Jokes My Father Never Taught Me."

We discussed the N-word controversy that's still humming after the Michael Richards incident and the reaction of some black performers like Paul Mooney (who wrote for Richard Pryor for 3 decades) who say they'll stop using that word. She also explained how her father always had women around, whether all his ex-wives get along with each other, and how he beat all of them (and her). Then we discussed how he started out as a Bill Cosby wannabe, and turned into the comedian that others wanted to be -- from Eddie Murphy to Chris Rock and others.

Interestingly, Rain told me that she probably could have sold a lot more books by making this a tawdry tell-all, but she didn't want to go there.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Friends Without Benefits

Over the last month or so, I've had an inordinate number of friend-requests on my Facebook page. My policy is to accept all of them -- and then immediately unfollow those people. If you want to keep current with what I post on Facebook, you're welcome to, but I'm not going to reciprocate. Same thing with my Twitter account.

It's nothing personal. I just don't have time to scroll through the posts of the more than 1,300 folks who have befriended me in that artificial world, where "friend" means everyone from lifetime pals to one-time acquaintances to someone I've never met but likes my work. I do follow a select number of people I work with, some former colleagues, longtime buddies, and several family members -- and that's it.

I'm pretty thin-skinned about who I allow to continue as a "friend." For the most part, it's people who never bother me about anything except an occasional comment on my radio show or blog posts here. On the other hand, don't add me to your group that sends me announcements about when you get together every other Thursday for bowling and chicken wings. I'm not interested in every charity you're involved in. Don't invite me to like your business. Don't send me Facebook Messenger messages full of videos you find hysterical. I ignore all of that or, if you abuse the privilege, have no qualms about un-friending you. Again, it's nothing personal, simply a way to better manage my time online.

Now, here's the ironic part of all this.

Because I accept every friend-request at first, I'm sure I'm allowing some bots access to my account. Someone told me that this is dangerous because it gives them entree into my timeline, where they can post all sorts of bogus information (e.g. Russians poisoning our information stream). I'm not worried about that because, since I don't follow them back, I never see that stuff. And if they do post it on my timeline, I simply delete it -- and them.

Some of those friend-requests have come from accounts with pictures of very attractive young women. Fine, I still don't care. But the other day, one of them private-messaged me, "Hi there." Curious to see if this would turn into some fodder for my radio show, I replied, "Hi yourself." Then she/he/it followed up with, "Have you heard about the new federal grant program?"

I could have continued and played along, just to see where this was going, but I wasn't in the mood. Instead, I responded, "'re blocked," followed by unfriending them and removing all evidence of their presence from my cyber life. And then I told the story on my show the next day.

In retrospect, I should have given them the Facebook account info of this Nigerian prince I've been corresponding with who's going to make me very wealthy once he's released from prison -- at which point I won't need any grants, federal or otherwise.

But even when that happens, you can still be my friend, if you play by my rules.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

David Hepworth, "Uncommon People"

David Hepworth is a British journalist who has written about music for four decades. Now he's published "Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars," and joined me to talk about it. Among the topics we covered:
  • How much of achieving rock stardom comes from hard work, how much from right-place-right-time?
  • If the era of rock stars is over, who was the last of the breed?
  • What do you mean when you say, in the book, that rock stars are often rock stars before they make records?
  • You write about performers who created their own myths, like Bob Dylan — how so?
  • How much of rock history is just about guys trying to get the attention of women?
  • Did music become less interesting in the 80s and 90s when MTV and corporate America got involved?
  • Can someone who’s a genuine rule breaker become a music star today, or do they have to fit a mold?
  • Is it easier to get famous in the age of YouTube?
  • Why do you say social media has put the final nail in the coffin of the rock stars?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Kevin Maurer, "American Radical"

"American Radical" is the story of Tamer Elnoury, a Muslim FBI agent who went undercover to expose some radical jihadists who were planning to commit mayhem in the US and Canada. Since he has now moved on to other law enforcement business and is unavailable to discuss the book, I spoke with his co-author, Kevin Maurer, asking him:
  • What do the jihadists he encountered have in common? What is their motivation?
  • Was it hard for Tamer to keep up the front, especially when exhausted?
  • Why did the FBI choose him?
  • How did he get his targets to trust him?
  • Is it true he went to acting classes to learn how to better relate to his targets?
  • As a Muslim, is he mad at jihadists who have turned his religion into something evil?
  • Was his life ever in danger?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, November 27, 2017

On My Monday Radio Show

I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show. Among my guests will be:
I hope you'll listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at

Friday, November 24, 2017

Movie Review: "Last Flag Flying"

It's 2003 when we meet Bryan Cranston, who owns a rundown bar in Norfolk, Virginia. Steve Carell shows up as an old friend from the Vietnam War with a sad request. Having lost his wife to cancer earlier in the year, he was devastated when he learned his son had been killed in action in Iraq. Although they haven't seen each other in a long time, Carrell wants Cranston and another former Marine buddy, Laurence Fishburne, to provide moral support while he buries his son.

The three men couldn't be more different. Cranston is a loud anti-authoritarian, Fishburne gave up his wild past to become a minister, and Carrell -- in a beautifully subtle performance -- is a quiet man beaten down by life. We also discover that something happened during their stint in Vietnam that ended with Carrell doing some time in the brig, while the others didn't. Still, they have a bond across the decades, and Carrell needs that closeness to help him get through this low point.

Their adventure takes them to Dover Air Force base, where they retrieve the young soldier's casket, and then on a road trip to have him buried in his hometown in New England. Along the way, the three veterans are assigned a young marine (who served with Carrell's son) as an official escort, and to share stories from a different war.

The exploits of this group of veterans is reminiscent of "The Last Detail," a 1973 film starring Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid and Otis Young. That's because both movies were based on books by Darryl Ponicsan, who co-wrote the screenplay for "Last Flag Flying" with director Richard Linklater, who knows when to slow down the action to allow us to simply listen to his characters. That's particularly true in a scene where the three veterans go to visit Cicely Tyson as the mother of a man who may have died because of them in Vietnam. Thankfully, Linklater doesn't burden us with flashbacks to that war, purposely leaving their problems from the past somewhat vague.

Although Cranston is a little over-the-top in some scenes, the performances are all very good as the friends bond all over again and the story sways from tragedy to dark comedy. Fishburne plays his character with stoicism, although he lightens up as the escapade unrolls. But it is Carrell, playing a quiet, grieving man, who really got my attention and continues to impress me with his range.

I give "Last Flag Flying" a 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Oh, No!

I just realized that when we celebrate Thanksgiving later today with my brother, sister-in-law, and two nephews, the crazy uncle in the house will be ME!

Movie Review: “Coco”

Over the last two decades, Pixar has produced some eye-popping advancements in animation, from Sully’s fur in “Monsters, Inc.” to the water effects in “Finding Nemo” to the memory balls in “Inside Out.” Now, with “Coco,” the company seems to have found a whole new palette of colors to play with on the screen.

“Coco” is the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a Mexican boy who loves music but is forbidden to play or sing any songs by his family, because a few generations back, his great-great-grandfather abandoned his wife and daughter to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. But Miguel idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the legendary (and dead) crooner, and wants to be like him so much that he steals de la Cruz’s guitar out of his mausoleum, planning to perform with it at the talent show in the town square on Dia De Muertos, the Day Of The Dead. But when Miguel strums de la Cruz’s guitar, he’s transported to The Land Of The Dead, where the adventure takes off and the colors come alive.

It is there that Miguel meets some of his deceased relatives and other characters as he tries to find de la Cruz so he can get his blessing to become a musician like his idol. However, things don’t go as Miguel planned, and he needs the assistance of Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who claims he knows de la Cruz very well. He’ll help, but only if Miguel will take Hector’s picture back to the Land Of The Living so his daughter will remember him. Those who are forgotten, Hector tells Miguel, turn into dust and drift away for ever.

That’s the nice message of “Coco,” which in addition to its vividly-created world, also includes several songs, including “Remember Me,” which is sung by several different characters as the story unfolds. It’s not as memorable as “Let It Go,” the song from “Frozen” that was written by the same duo, but it’s perfect for the movie’s sentimental side. Although “Coco” is wrapped up a little too easily for my taste, it still tugged at my heartstrings and will for you, too.

Not surprisingly, “Coco” opened to record-breaking numbers in Mexico last weekend. Now it’s America’s turn, and I’ll bet it will be number one here, too — ironic at a time when we have a president who has created antipathy for pretty much everyone from south of the border. Regardless, “Coco” will deservedly be a hit, even in the red states, as families look for a movie they can all watch and enjoy together.

After suffering from sequel-itis with “Cars 3” and “Finding Dory,” it’s nice to see Pixar get back to telling an original story while pushing the technical side, too. I give “Coco” an 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Movie Review: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

It's nice to see a movie where the characters don't all act as you expect them to, where you make assumptions about them early on based on their actions, but then have them turned upside down as the plot develops. That's one of the best things about "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," a dark comedy that will end up on my Best Of 2017 list.

Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a mother grieving over the horrific death of her daughter nine months ago. The police haven't caught the culprit and have given up on the case. So Mildred decides to rent those three billboards to send the sheriff a message in an attempt to get the investigation going again. The signs raise the ire of Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his deputies, including Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who try to get Mildred to take the billboards down, but she refuses and the battle is on.

I am going to stop right there, because to reveal any other plot points would be to spoil your enjoyment of this terrific movie, which has the same tone as the best work by the Coen brothers -- especially "Fargo," which also starred McDormand. She is fantastic as the deeply grieving mother, worn down by life and death. Harrelson and Rockwell match her step for step. It's some of the best work all three of them have ever done. There's also some wonderful support from Abby Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones, John Hawkes (who was so good in the movie that made Jennifer Lawrence a star, "Winter's Bone") and Zeljko Ivanek (who I always enjoy even though I can't pronounce his name correctly).

What makes "Three Billboards" unique is the way the characters change. Just when you think you've learned who this one is and how he/she will act, they do the opposite. It's that unpredictability that drives the story and keeps us on our toes. Martin McDonagh -- who wrote, directed, and produced the movie -- has a terrific eye and ear for the way real people speak to each other. He captures these small-town Americans just right as he treads the thin line between tragedy and comedy. His script will almost certainly be nominated for an Oscar for Original Screenplay.

It's hard to find anything I didn't like about "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," so I'm giving it a 9.5 out of 10.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today

My friend Nolan Dalla on the absurdity of the lawsuit against Mandalay Bay over the 10/1 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Jeff Smith On Helping Ex-Cons Rejoin Society

Jeff Smith returned to my show to discuss his role as Executive Vice President of Concordance Academy of Leadership, an organization that helps former inmates at Missouri State Prisons rejoin society. Jeff explained the services the academy offers, and the difficulties ex-cons face in getting back on their feet without money, a job, or a place to live.

Since he spent a year in federal prison, Jeff knows the difficulties these men have faced, both on the inside and once they've been released. His ability to speak their language while also serving as a role model is part of his appeal in this work.

We discussed Ban The Box, a campaign to remove the question "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" from applications for employment or education -- Jeff revealed some surprising research about the states where it has been implemented. We also talked about the Sentencing Reform And Corrections Act, a bill with bipartisan support that would finally do something about extreme sentencing.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Best Thing I’ve Read Today

The Celebrity Perv Apology Generator. Keep clicking through!

As I Tweeted

  • John Lasseter of Pixar steps aside over you-know-what. No wonder the women who worked there wanted to make a movie called “The Credibles.”
  • Clinton-haters want to re-litigate accusations against the ex-president because “the women must be believed.” I’m sure they also want to re-open the Clarence Thomas hearings because they now believe Anita Hill, right?

Adam Savage, "Brain Candy Live"

For 10 years and 282 episodes, Adam Savage co-hosted “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel. He left that show in 2016, but you can still find him at and on his new tour with Michael Stevens, doing a stage show called Brain Candy Live, which comes to the Peabody in St. Louis December 6th.

When Adam returned to my radio show, he explained the Brain Candy Live concept and what he's been up to in his maker studio lately. We also discussed the new MythBusters (Bryan Louden and Jon Lung, who debuted last week on the Science Channel) and Adam's memories (in his final season on "Mythbusters") of seeing the Earth from a unique vantage point, some 70,000 feet up in a U-2 plane.

I also told Adam about my idea for a new series, which I proposed on this site two years ago:
I'm a little surprised they haven't produced a "Mythbusters" spinoff yet. I envision something that's a cross between the 1973 NBC series "The Magician" (in which Bill Bixby played an illusionist who uses his talents to help people in trouble) and the 1986 movie "F/X" (with Bryan Brown as a special effects/makeup artist who helps fake a mob hit). In my suggested show, you'd have a couple of guys like Adam and Jamie, who are experts in building devices and effects, solve a client's problem each week, in a procedural format like "CSI" or "The Blacklist." There would be plenty of room for stunts and science to co-exist -- with the occasional explosion, of course.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Jessica Meir, NASA Astronaut

Since I grew up with the American space program, I have long been fascinated by the men and women who get to sit atop those huge rockets and be thrust beyond Earth's atmosphere. That's why I was happy to see "A Year In Space," the PBS documentary which is running this month. It's about Scott Kelly, the astronaut who spent 340 consecutive days on the International Space Station, and the effects on his body of such a prolonged period of weightlessness.

Its companion piece, "Beyond A Year In Space" (which you can watch aboves) features my guest, Dr. Jessica Meir, one of the new class of astronauts who may one day go on a mission to Mars. She graduated from training two years ago, and although she hasn't left Earth yet, she's been very involved behind the scenes while waiting for her first opportunity to launch.

In our conversation, I asked if she's prepping for a Mars mission, or if it's more likely NASA will return to the moon first. As a physiologist who has studied animals in extreme environments, I asked what life will be like for humans on Mars, and how much of a threat solar radiation is as it bombards everything outside Earth's atmosphere (even inside the ISS). We also talked about NASA's new Orion capsule and rocket (which will mean we no longer have to be dependent on the Russian space program to get us up and down), her experience as an Aquanaut, and what it was like to visit the Apollo mission control room with Jim Lovell, who orbited the moon in Apollo 8 and lived through the Apollo 13 mishap, too.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Rick Newman Explains Bitcoin

Rick Newman of Yahoo Finance has been writing about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies lately, so I asked him to return to my radio show to explain them in layman's terms. Considering how the value of these financial instruments has skyrocketed in their short lives, their story seems unreal, yet there are lots of people jumping on the bandwagon and buying their own fractional shares.

If you don't even know what Bitcoin is, my conversation with Rick might stimulate your interest. Full disclosure: Rick owns some Bitcoin, but I do not. Yet.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving Media Memo

I wrote this in 2007...

To: All News Outlets
Fr: Media Control Central
Re: Stories That Must Be Done During Thanksgiving Week

Monday: Do's and Don'ts of Holiday Travel. Include important things that the public can't figure out on its own, like a reminder of how to pack clothes neatly in a suitcase.

Tuesday: Deep Fryer Turkey Scare Stories. Dig up video of that guy from last year who burned down his house and ruined the family get-together.

Wednesday: Live Shots From The Airport. Start this at 5am, and keep doing it until there actually is a crowd of anxious travelers lined up out the door. Do not mention that a great deal of their anxiety came from getting around the many live trucks blocking traffic outside the terminal.

Thursday: Parade. Include not just the local Thanksgiving parade, but also interviews with a few people who have to make a last minute run to the supermarket because they forgot cranberry sauce. Also report on how much more this year's average Thanksgiving meal costs, and interview the Butterball Hotline lady (who has likely been outsourced to Bangalore, India).

Friday: Busiest Shopping Day Of The Year. It doesn't matter that today is not the busiest shopping day of the year -- that's always the last Saturday before Christmas, because that's when men finally remember they have to buy something for their wife, who bought gifts for the rest of the family back around Halloween -- play up the hype, especially for your advertisers.

Saturday: Retailers Report. Based on exactly one day of shopping, but hundreds of analysts making predictions, report that retailers are having a tough holiday shopping season.

Sunday: Back To The Airport. Remind the public that if they haven't left for the airport already, they're screwed.

Monday: They're Dead. Report the number of people who died on the road during the holiday weekend, and how high gas prices didn't seem to keep Americans from traveling long distances to eat and argue with their families.

Future File (Upcoming Stories To Work On):

  • Fire hazards of Christmas trees.
  • Increased popularity of online shopping.
  • Find a Jewish family that can explain Hanukkah.

On My Monday Radio Show

I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show. Among my guests will be:
I hope you'll listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at

Movie Review: "Wonder"

In "Wonder," Jacob Tremblay (so good with Brie Larson in “Room”) is Auggie, a boy born with facial deformities. He has been homeschooled by his mother, Julia Roberts, but now she and dad Owen Wilson have decided it's time for him to be mainstreamed into a real school, for fifth grade.

That may sound like "Wonder" is just a younger version of the 1994 movie "Mask," which starred Eric Stoltz, Cher, and Sam Elliott. The difference is that movie was about a blue-collar family in a small California town, and this one is about an upper-class family in New York City.

At school, Auggie encounters exactly the kind of bullying and ignorant avoid-the-guy-with-the-weird-face attitudes you would expect, but he manages to trudge through it, and eventually makes friends. One of the aspects of this movie that works so well is telling it from more than just Auggie’s vantage point. We learn about his sister, Via, as she struggles with some social issues in high school, while also recognizing that, at home, her parents have spent most of the last 10 years taking care of her brother at her expense. We see things from the perspective of Jack, a boy who may or may not turn out to be Auggie’s best friend at school, and Miranda, Via's longtime friend. Oh, and there is a cute dog, too.

Tremblay is very good as Auggie, and you are never aware of the make up that has turned him into this character. He's sweet and smart, so you are rooting for him from the first moment you see him on screen. It is good to see Roberts' big, wide smile again, and Wilson is, well, Wilson. The cast also includes Mandy Patinkin as the principal of Auggie's school, and a very short appearance by Sonia Braga.

Unfortunately, "Wonder" ends on a cheap, sentimental finale that felt tacked on. There are other storylines that seem designed expressly -- and try to hard -- to tug at your heartstrings. Still, the rest of it is very family friendly, and I think a lot of adults -- and especially kids -- will enjoy seeing this story.

I give "Wonder" a 7 out of 10.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Money Shot

Much was made of the photo last week of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, holding up a sheet of new $1 bills. It was said to be proof of their arrogance and love of money. After all, he's an ex-Goldman Sachs banker and movie producer, and they live in a big mansion. Okay, fine, but the criticism was still off base when it came to the photo op.

In that cabinet position, Mnuchin's signature now appears on American currency, alongside that of US Treasurer Jovita Carranza. You have to admit how cool it is to look down at money and see your own name and handwriting. If that were me, I'd do exactly what he did -- go to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and take a picture with some newly-printed cash that hasn't gone through the cutting device yet. And, yes, I'd invite my wife to come over and be in the shot with me.

This isn't some privilege of the super-wealthy. You can buy your own sheet of uncut currency online or at the Bureau's gift shop after you've taken the tour (worth the trip next time you're in DC -- bring the kids). That's exactly what I did 30+ years ago when I wanted something unique as a gift for my father-in-law. He loved it and put it up on the wall of his office, framed. I can only imagine how much cooler that would have been if the money had my name on it.

By the way, there's another photo you probably didn't see from the same day last week, from a different perspective. It shows both Mnuchin and Carranza showing off the brand new uncut currency, and there's nothing evil about it.

Credit: those photos were taken by Jacquelyn Martin of the Associated Press, who provides some background here.

Movie Review, "Justice League"

I'm not a comic-book-superhero kind of guy. I don't know the difference between the Marvel characters and the DC characters. I don't get excited when there's some new movie in their universes. That said, I occasionally see movies like this, knowing that I'm not going to be as excited about them as the vast majority of the audience is. I go in with low expectations, though there have been times when I've walked out satisfied, such as the first Christopher Reeve "Superman," the first Michael Keaton "Batman," the first Tobey Maguire "Spider-Man," and the first Gal Gadot "Wonder Woman." They each charmed me in different ways.

That brings us to "Justice League," in which DC brings six of its superheroes together: Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gadot), Superman (Henry Cavill), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman (Jason Mamoa). The latter three are new to the screen, which means we have to go through mini-origin stories of those characters. Of them, Miller is the only one worth watching, as he provides some much-needed comic relief, while Mamoa just comes off as the buffest surfer of all time reciting incredibly stupid lines. As for Fisher, he's hampered by a character that's under-written and as confusing as he is confused.

Wonder Woman is undeniably the star of the movie, and Gal Godot has proven her worth. Her standalone movie, released nine months ago, is one of the biggest earners of the year, and "Justice League" works best whenever she's on screen. However, I hated the way the camera occasionally panned up her body to show us how great she looks -- that's the difference between having Zack Snyder direct your movie and having Patty Jenkins behind the scenes. Arguably the most popular actress in the world, Gadot now has the power to ensure she isn't treated that way by directors in the future, just as she's refused to reprise the role if producer Brett Ratner (who's been accused of multiple sexually inappropriate incidents with other actresses) is anywhere near the project.

Ironically, Affleck is better as Bruce Wayne than he is as Batman. For some reason, when he's in the cape and cowl, he uses a gruff deep voice (which is then electronically enhanced). Perhaps it's to make him sound bigger and tougher, but it didn't work in the previous chapters, and still doesn't. He does have one good line: when Mamoa asks what his superpower is, Affleck replies, "I'm rich."

Considering that its predecessors were all too dark and serious, I was happy to see more humorous moments like that in "Justice League," as well as some good rapport between Batman and Wonder Woman and The Flash. The supporting cast includes JK Simmons, who I usually like, but seems out of place as Commissioner Gordon, since I still associate him with the Spider-Man universe, in which he has played newspaper editor Jonah Jameson several times.

Unfortunately for "Justice League," its villain, Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), is quite possibly the worst movie villain I have ever seen. He's some kind of horned demon, or a demon with a horned hat or something. Whatever he is, Steppenwolf is, of course, bent on the destruction of mankind and blah blah blah. He's boring, the CGI is terrible, and the flying mosquitoes around him only reminded me of the flying monkeys in "The Wizard of Oz." The movie is also burdened with the idiotic decision to kill Superman in its previous chapter, but I won't spoil how it's handled (except to say it's not well done).

Remember, though, my expectations for these movies aren’t high, and I'm more than willing to just sit back and see if they entertain me at all. Despite the above objections, "Justice League" mostly did. Maybe the series can go forward now with this group of six central superheroes, forget about any more origin stories, and rely more on character interaction than CGI mayhem.

I give "Justice League" a 5 out of 10.